Sodium is essential in many bodily processes, including the maintenance of optimal fluid levels within the body.
In the digestive system, sodium assists in the process of metabolizing foods into energy. It protects the stomach lining by preventing the acids inside the stomach from burning it.
Sodium also maintains the acid/base level within the body, usually expressed as the pH balance. Additionally, it helps in the relaying of nerve impulses into the skeletal muscles, through a mechanism known as the sodium/potassium pump, where sodium and potassium act in concert to maintain the electrochemical balance within the muscle cells that permits the impulse to reach the muscle fiber.
Sodium is a good thing!! Although like all things in life, it needs to be taken in moderation. Today’s fast foods, processed foods and junk foods are loaded with sodium. Eating whole grains, lean protein and lots of fruit and vegetables without added salt is the way to go!
The recommended daily intake of sodium for an adult is 1500mg (your doctor may have you eating less). Here are some tips to help you lower your salt intake.
Tips At the Store
- Remember that unprocessed, fresh foods are good for you and are naturally low in sodium.
- Read the Nutrition Facts label and check the sodium content. Try to avoid high sodium products with over 400 mg sodium per serving. Go easy on those with a medium sodium content of 200 – 400 mg per serving. Look for those products that are less than 200 mg per serving.
- Be aware of the serving size – how many servings are you intending to eat? For example breads and cereals are a significant source of sodium in our diets because we consume many servings.
- Soups, processed meats, convenience and prepared foods are loaded with sodium.
- Different brands may have differing sodium contents. The lower sodium brands may be located on the top or bottom of the shelf rather than at eye level. They are also often hidden in the “organic”, “wholefood”, or “natural” sections of the supermarket – ask for assistance and complain if low-sodium brands are not available!
- Be wary of products bearing health claims. These claims are mostly dubious and are often used to promote processed “foods” containing unhealthy doses of sodium.
- Cut the salty snacks. Instead of chips try fruit, plain popcorn or unsalted nuts.
Tips In the Kitchen
- Cooking from scratch give you control of the sodium content. Add progressively less salt when cooking – as you get used to the taste cut it out completely.
- When cooking, remember that stocks and sauces are often high in sodium, especially steak, soy and fish sauces.
- When baking, note that baking powder and self-raising flour are sources of sodium.
- In the preparation of packaged foods, try to cut back on the sauces and avoid adding the seasoning mixes which are loaded with sodium.
- To reduce the sodium in canned vegetables, drain and soak in cold fresh water for 10 minutes then drain again before use.Or try MagicKitchen.com’s frozen vegetables without preservatives. Look for the blue circle saying LS for the lower sodium sides.
- At the table don’t salt your food! Sea salt contains almost as much sodium as table salt. Try adding a twist of lemon juice, herbs and spices, or sodium free seasonings as an alternative to salt. Allow your taste buds to get used to enjoying the subtle flavors of food with less salt. Just as with giving up sugar in coffee, it only takes a short time for your taste to adjust.
Tips at the Restaurant
- Take the time to read the nutrition information on the websites of your favorite fast food restaurants. Make a note of items with the best nutritional profile. Remember that an adequate intake of 1,500 mg of sodium per day implies around 500 mg per meal.
- Pizza, sandwiches, subs, burgers, and hot dogs account for a large amount of sodium consumption. Eat less of these meals and avoid those that have “extra” prepared meats and cheese.
- “Healthy” choices can also contain surprising amounts of sodium. Ask for your salad dressing on the side and use sparingly. Request no soy sauce or MSG in your stir-fry. Soups, even the vegetable varieties, are almost always high in sodium.
- Chain restaurants may have nutritional information on their web sites – get the facts before you go and plan your meal based on informed choices.
- Tell your waiter that you want to limit sodium (salt) and don’t be afraid to make special requests.
- Be wary of “healthy” options on the menu – ask about the sodium content.
- Serving sizes at restaurant are often extreme. Ask for a half portion, split a meal or take home part for later.
- Steer clear of the soups, sauces and salad dressings.